Should I Take the ACT or the SAT?

Choosing the Test (ACT/SAT) that’s Right for You

Whether you’re an opportunistic freshman gearing up for the long trek to higher education or a scrambling senior trying to make last-minute adjustments to your college applications, college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT are definitely on your mind. 


Do I take the ACT? Should I bother with the SAT? Is there a difference? Does it matter?


Once you find out the key differences and the striking similarities, entry exams will be the furthest worry from your mind.


Where they Align 

The ACT and the SAT have fundamental similarities when stripped down to bare bones. Both exams assess college readiness following a very prescribed set of skills and knowledge related to English and mathematics. Both test English grammar, reading comprehension, and the following math concepts: arithmetic, geometry, algebra, and trigonometry.


Neither test can accurately indicate your intelligence or your capabilities, but they can help colleges determine which students took the time and effort to clear yet another hurdle to admissions.


Both tests are highly stylized and involve methodical patterns. These can be easily mastered by any student given the appropriate time, the right environment, and a few essential study tactics.


Where They Differ


A few essential differences exist between the content and structure of the ACT and SAT, despite their foundational similarities, that can help students determine which test works best for them.


Structurally, the SAT only directly tests math and English skills while the ACT also has a science component. However, the ACT science section essentially functions as another reading section.


The ACT tests reading, English (language and writing), math, and science in four separate sections. The SAT divides into two sections (ELA and math) with four tested sections (divided reading and writing sections, and non-calculator and calculator math sections). Finally, the ACT has retained its optional essay portion, whereas the SAT recently abolished the essay component. 


The ACT allows a calculator on all sections. Furthermore, the SAT math component tests data analysis whereas the ACT involves probability and statistics.


The tested questions have similar components that can be answered through similar strategies across the SAT and ACT, but of course, unique particulars to both exams exist and can be enumerated through more in-depth study


Scoring differs widely between the two tests with SAT scores ranging from 400-1600 and ACT scores ranging from 1-36.


Which test should I take?


Most colleges give equal weight to the ACT and the SAT, so play to your strengths when it comes to deciding which test you should take. 


Neither test definitively ranks as generally easier or harder, better or worse. Some students find that the SAT allows for a greater demonstration of math skills. Other students find that the ACT favors students who excel at reading comprehension.


Regardless, you’ll only know for sure which test suits you by taking them both. Then, you can see which test feels more comfortable. When you’ve decided which you prefer, focus on learning that test inside and out until you get your desired score. Afterward, you can move on to the next test if you want to make your application even stronger. 


A lot of students sign up for both tests, but you don’t have to report every score you receive. 

Whichever test you choose, the most important thing you can do is practice, practice, practice learning the rules and patterns of your chosen test. These are highly formulaic exams that anyone can score well on given the right training and resources. If you’re struggling on either exam or even still stuck deciding between the ACT or the SAT, consult with trained guides like the tutors at Studyville who can help you unlock the key to college entrance exams!


By Lama Hantash

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